Jacques Barzun, public intellectual, dead at 104

Historians in the News

...In a review of Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadance," The Times wrote, "Barzun is impressively learned, conservative and unconventional in many of his judgments.... He offers an admirably coherent and comprehensive portrait of the cultural achievements --'art and thought, manners, morals and religion' -- of what we once confidently called 'Modern,' and more recently and accurately label 'Western' civilization....

"Barzun sees only decadence: the breakdown of a rich tradition that now must somehow be thrown away for something fresh and new to arise. Decadence is not a pejorative for him but a description of this sad and somehow inexorable condition. For, according to Barzun, all the potentialities of Western culture have now been worked out and pushed to such extremes as to defy further elaboration. Only rejection, mockery, caricature remain. Deconstruction on a vast scale everywhere and in all dimensions of consciousness is the wasteland he sees around him, with only a hope of some eventual renaissance, perhaps 300 years hence, when, after centuries of 'deschooling,' he imagines how '[s]ome among the untutored group taught themselves to read, compiled digests, and by adapting great stories and diluting great ideas provided the common people with a culture over and above the televised fare.... This compost of longing, images, and information resembled that which medieval monks, poets and troubadours fashioned out of the Greco-Roman heritage.' "...

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Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012

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